Kindle Fire HD Features Review

Kindle Fire HD comes with a lot of different features. I’ve wanted to do a Kindle Fire HD Features Review that focuses on what things you can do with the device. In particular, what things each feature allows you to do, and how well. As opposed to a Kindle Fire HD Review that talks about technical specifications and hard-to-understand things.

Well, here’s my Kindle Fire HD Features Review.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – HD Screen

The Kindle Fire HD Screen is a big advantage over iPad Mini and Nexus 7. Kindle Fire HD screen is roughly equivalent to the Nook HD+ screen. There are some Samsung Tablets with better screens, but not in this price range (to the best of my knowledge).

The Kindle Fire HD has a 1200 by 800 HD display that is 7″ in size. It has In-Plane Switching technology to ensure good viewing from any viewing angle. It supports 720p HD video.

It also comes with a polarizing filter and anti-glare technology. Note: The anti-glare doesn’t work with sunlight. LCD screens in general are not suited to reading in sunlight. Amazon makes  a big deal of this but I don’t see how this is noticeably better than any other Tablet screen in sunlight. All LCD Tablet screens have glare.

The screen is also a 10 point capacitive touch screen. So, if you do find any app or webpage that requires using more than 2-3 fingers at a time, the 10 point touch screen would be handy.

What things does the 1200 by 800 HD display help with -

  1. Watching Movies. Movies are very sharp and crisp.
  2. Watching Photos. Photos look amazing on the Kindle Fire HD screen.
  3. Reading. A very high screen resolution means text can be very sharp.
  4. Reading Magazines. The Kindle Fire HD screen makes for great photos and magazines look great.
  5. Playing Games. Lots of games now come in HD versions. The Kindle Fire HD screen suits these HD versions perfectly.
  6. Pretty much anything that requires a high-definition screen. Nearly anything you do on a Tablet will require one or both of sharp, crisp graphics and sharp, crisp text. Since Kindle Fire HD screen ensures both, it greatly enhances your overall experience.

There is also a downside – Apps and Games and Movies and Photos that are of lower graphic/image quality look terrible.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Kindle Fire HD Dolby Speakers

Amazon put a lot of focus on making great speakers for the Kindle Fire HD. It succeeded. Kindle Fire HD speakers are better than all other Tablet speakers (7″ and 10″). They are even better than many laptop speakers.

Kindle Fire HD has custom Dolby Digital Audio. This automatically adapts to whatever you are doing, and optimizes sound accordingly. It also adapts when headphones are on.

Kindle Fire HD has dual driver stereo speakers on both sides of the Kindle Fire HD display. This creates a wider sound-field and really delivers great sound.

The Kindle Fire HD product page has additional detail.

Kindle Fire HD Speakers are best in class, and they help with -

  1. Movies. A much better experience as the sound is great. Combined with the excellent screen, this makes Kindle Fire HD the best 7″ Tablet to watch movies on.
  2. Music. Kindle Fire HD is the best tablet for listening to music. The sound is good and strong even without headphones.
  3. Games. Some games have excellent music and game sounds. Having a good pair of stereo speakers really enhances the experience.
  4. Audiobooks. Kindle Fire HD is the best tablet for audiobooks. The Speakers are great. Since Amazon owns Audible you get easy access to a wide range of audiobooks. You also get integration features like Immersion Reading. Finally, you get special offers on audiobooks when you buy the eBook from the Kindle store.
  5. TV Shows. As with movies, Kindle Fire HD is the best 7″ Tablet to watch TV.

The screen and the speakers are two big Kindle Fire HD strengths. They affect most of the things you’ll do with a tablet (especially the screen), so it’s a smart move by Amazon to invest heavily in them.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Ease of Use

Kindle Fire HD is much simpler to use than Tablets that come with stock Android (the original, untouched Android OS). It, however, isn’t as simple as iPad.

Here are some things that make Kindle Fire HD easy to use -

  1. It’s simple and intuitive. Amazon makes everything simple and straightforward.
  2. All the complexity of Android is hidden. If too much technology overwhelms you, then Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD is great. All the features are easy to access. Most of the complexity and settings are hidden away (they are available, for the most part – just hidden away to avoid overwhelming you).
  3. There is no setup required. Kindle Fire HD comes pre-registered to your Amazon account. Definitely a good thing since lots of new Tablet buyers run into problems at the registration stage.
  4. Intuitive Interface. Well, the interface is definitely easy to use. One downside is that Amazon focuses too much on ‘Recommendations to buy other things from Amazon’.
  5. 1-Click Shopping. Surprise, Surprise. If you want to buy stuff from Amazon, it’s very easy. To be fair, a lot of retailers make it hard and/or inconvenient for you to buy things you want to buy. Amazon doesn’t.
  6. Read-To-Me. For books where Publishers haven’t turned off the feature, you can have Kindle Fire HD read you books (only for English language books).
  7. Recommendations. This is actually a negative as they are almost like Ads.
  8. Bluetooth support. You can connect wireless accessories like stereo headphones and speakers and keyboards. At the same time, there are not many Kindle Fire optimized Bluetooth accessories.
  9. HDMI out. There’s a built in HDMI port that lets you view videos and photos on your TV.

Overall, Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD both do a good job of this (hiding Android’s complexity). If you can afford it, then iPad Mini is the simplest and most intuitive device to use. If not, then Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD are the next choices.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Fast WiFi

Amazon claims that Kindle Fire HD’s WiFi has two advantages -

  1. It has dual WiFi antennas that come with MIMO technology (multiple in, multiple out). This is supposed to make Kindle Fire HD WiFi 33% faster than iPad Mini WiFi, and 65% faster than Google’s 7″ Tablet. I haven’t noticed any great difference – perhaps you have to measure it very precisely to notice the difference. However, the WiFi on Kindle Fire HD is good.
  2. It supports both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz. This is a real advantage. Often you’ll want to switch to 5 Ghz because you have a lot of devices that support both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz and 5 Ghz is less congested. However, your tablet will force you to stay with 2.4 Ghz. With Kindle Fire this isn’t an issue.

On the speed aspect, I don’t notice any big difference between Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD, and Google Nexus 7. However, support for 5 Ghz makes the Kindle Fire HD the winner in WiFi.

How does supposedly faster, dual antenna, dual band WiFi help?

  1. It helps a lot in terms of convenience since you can use the 5 Ghz band.
  2. It helps with web surfing. For most webpages you won’t be able to tell the difference. However, for bandwidth heavy sites like YouTube it’ll make a big difference IF Kindle Fire HD WiFi really is 33% better than iPad Mini (have no way of confirming this).
  3. It helps when streaming movies. Movies, when streamed, take up a lot of bandwidth. So the Kindle Fire HD WiFi should, in theory, make Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, etc. much better. Note: In reality the limitation will probably be your bandwidth speed. Also, I don’t find any discernible difference between Nook Color, Kindle Fire HD, Nook Tablet, Nexus 7, etc. So the supposed 65% improvement over Nexus 7 might be academic.
  4. It helps when streaming music or Internet Radio. Since music and radio take a lot less bandwidth, the improvement here will probably not be noticeable.
  5. Where the WiFi will shine is if you are watching HD content on a very fast connection. In that case, the Tablet’s WiFi speed will be a limiting factor and Kindle Fire HD’s supposedly faster dual antennas might have the edge.

To be quite frank, I don’t know whether this is more of a marketing thing or a real Kindle Fire HD advantage. I haven’t seen any clear improvement. With the screen and the speakers the difference is easy to see/hear. With the WiFi, I don’t notice anything that seems better over other Tablets.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – 1.2 Ghz Dual processor with Power VR 3D Graphics Core

Kindle Fire HD boasts the following features to improve performance -

  1. Fast Dual-core Processor.
  2. Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core.
  3. Tuned graphics pipeline and touch-handling software for faster responsiveness.

The dual-core processor is a 1.2GHz OMAP4460 processor. It isn’t really better than the other 7″ Tablets. Nook HD has a Texas Instruments 1.3 GHz dual-core processor with 1GB RAM (courtesy Wikipedia). Nexus 7 has a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core chip and 1 GB of memory. The Tegra 3 is 1.2 GHz.

Kindle Fire HD’s processor is not as fast as the Nexus 7, and is a bit slower than Nook HD’s.

Not sure about the Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core. Nexus 7 is absolutely amazing on games, even resource intensive 3D games. So Nexus 7 has the best Processor for games.  For movies and TV and for general speed there wasn’t much difference. All tablets are good. Sometimes Nook HD can be a bit sluggish. However, Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 are both fast nearly all the time.

Note: For general UI smoothness the iPad is best.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Content Ecosystem

One of the big advantages of the Kindle Fire HD is that it comes with a rich content ecosystem -

  1. 1.2 million books. Amazon does have more books and cheaper prices than any other book store. Out of the 1.2 million books, 180,000 are Kindle Store exclusives. Note: Most of the exclusives are Indie Author titles. Keep in mind that there are not very many ‘exclusives’ that are new bestselling books.
  2. Public Domain Free Kindle Books. This is the same as any other store.
  3. Kindle Owners Lending Library (you get it free if you are a Prime Member) lets you loan out any out of 270,000 titles. However, most of these are indie author titles. There are just a bit over 100 NY Times bestsellers (past and present) included and the Harry Potter titles.
  4. 100,000 Audiobooks. Amazon owns Audible and that allows it to integrate audiobooks better, and also to make audiobook use smoother.
  5. 400 Magazines.
  6. 120,000 Movies and TV Shows for Rent and Purchase.
  7. 35,000 Movies and TV Shows for Free if you get an Amazon Prime Membership.
  8. 20 million songs.
  9. 50,000 to 60,000 Apps for Kindle Fire HD. This is quite a bit behind Apple and Google and Nook HD (700,000 or more apps for each).

Please Note: This is US centric. Outside the US Amazon’s content availability drops dramatically (except in books). If you are outside the US, Apple iPad is your best choice.

Inside the US, Amazon offers a really, really strong content ecosystem. It’s not as good as Apple. However, it’s better than everyone else. Note: Microsoft has a very strong ecosystem too. However, it doesn’t yet have any 7″ Windows 8 Tablets.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Support for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Exchange Email, Calendar, and Contacts

It’s interesting that Amazon would mention this as a strength/feature. Its support for all of these features is mediocre at best.

  1. The Facebook App is not very good. There is Facebook integration in various places but it’s not stellar.
  2. The Email App is mediocre.
  3. Twitter support isn’t very good either.

Some of this is a function of Amazon’s App Store still being small. This means that it doesn’t get priority with either the companies (Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo) or with developers.

Some of this is a function of Kindle Fire HD not having a rear facing camera and it being difficult to access the front facing camera. There’s no built-in Camera App which is a royal headache.

iPad is much, much better. Nexus 7 is also better.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Front-facing HD Camera

Amazon made a few mistakes with the Kindle Fire HD’s camera -

  1. There’s only a front-facing camera. There’s no rear-facing camera.
  2. It only comes up within Skype and in a few apps like Facebook. There’s no dedicated Camera App.
  3. The quality and resolution aren’t very high.

The net result is that Kindle Fire HD is not good at all if you’re looking for a Tablet that will let you take photos quickly and easily.

Kindle Fire HD Features for Families & Kids Review – Kindle FreeTime and Kindle FreeTime Unlimited

Two very interesting Kindle Fire HD features are Kindle FreeTime and Kindle FreeTime Unlimited -

  1. Kindle FreeTime – Lets parents set limits on how long kids can use Tablets. Lets Parents set limits on how long individual features (movies, reading, etc.) can be used. You can also set what titles are available to Kids (Note: Haven’t confirmed this last part).
  2. Kindle FreeTime Unlimited - This is a subscription service for kids. For a monthly fee, you get unlimited access to thousands of books, games, educational apps, movies and TV shows selected for kids aged 3 to 8. It starts at just $4.99 a month. For Amazon Prime members, it starts at just $2.99 a month.
  3. Note: An additional family friendly feature is the sturdy build of the Kindle Fire HD and the strong Gorilla Glass screen. While the sturdiness of the build takes away from the looks, it certainly makes for a stable tablet. The Gorilla Glass display is very strong too and much more resistant than normal glass to breaking.

The combination of these three things make Kindle Fire HD really good for kids. Nook HD has a Profiles feature and also allows choosing what content is available (based on age of your kid(s)). However, Kindle Fire HD’s Kindle FreeTime Unlimited makes it, arguably, the best choice for Kids.

An argument in favor of the iPad would be that the number of Kids Apps available on iPad is much larger, and that the quality is higher. It is also much more intuitive for kids to use. Perhaps iPad might be a better choice for your kids if you have a larger budget.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Amazon Prime, Kindle Prime Instant Video, Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

When you buy Kindle Fire HD, you get a free month of Amazon Prime. You can continue Amazon Prime for $79 a year. Please Note: This is a SEPARATE and ADDITIONAL cost. This isn’t included in the price of the Kindle Fire HD.

With Amazon Prime you get -

  1. Free 2-Day Shipping on lots and lots of items sold at Amazon. A really, really useful feature if you order from Amazon.com regularly (or might start doing that).
  2. Kindle Prime Instant Video. This is free streaming service that offers 35,000 Movies and TV Shows. The range isn’t as wide as Netflix. However, it’s decent.
  3. Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. You get one free book loan a month out of 260,000 included titles. Most of the books are from indie authors and smaller Publishers. A few big ones like the Harry Potter books are included.
  4. Lower Price of $2.99 per month upwards for Kindle FreeTime Unlimited.
  5. Perhaps other benefits I’m not aware of.

Overall, Amazon Prime at $79 is very useful if you already use Amazon. The Kindle Prime Instant Video and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library aren’t worth it if you aren’t going to use the free 2-day shipping.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Buy Once, Read Anywhere

Amazon actually does a very good job of allowing you to use your content on other devices.

Amazon claims – books, videos, apps, audiobooks, games, and music that you buy for your Kindle Fire HD can also be enjoyed on Amazon apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, game consoles, TVs and more.

Books and Videos and Audiobooks and Music can definitely be accessed on other devices via Amazon Apps.

These various Amazon Apps let you access books and videos and music and audiobooks across your devices. For books you also get your place in the book synced. It also adds a level of security – if Amazon stops making Kindle Fire HD (who knows), or if you lose your Kindle Fire HD, then you can just use another device to access your content.

Not sure about apps and games. Those are only accessible on Kindle Fire HD and on Android Devices that allow installation of the Amazon Android App Store.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Amazon specific Services like Syncing

Amazon has added some nifty services to Kindle Fire HD. These include -

  1. X-Ray for Movies and TV. You can pause any scene and instantly see which actors are currently on the screen, jump to other movies in which they star, and explore.
  2. X-Ray for Books. You can tap any page to get more details on the book and characters from sources such as Shelfari and Wikipedia. Since Amazon just bought GoodReads, the data from Goodreads should also eventually find its way to the X-Ray for Books feature.
  3. Immersion Reading. Synchronize Kindle book text with the companion Audible Audiobooks. Almost 15,000 such ebook+audiobook pairs are available.
  4. WhisperSync for Voice. Switch seamlessly between listening to the Audible Audiobook and reading the Kindle ebook version.
  5. WhisperSync for Movies. Sync your place in a movie across your Kindle Fire HD, your TV, your iPad, and more.
  6. WhisperSync for Books. Sync your place in a book across your Kindle Fire HD, your eInk Kindle, and various Kindle Reading Apps.
  7. WhisperSync for Games. Saves your game progress in the Amazon cloud. You’ll not lose an unlocked level or saved game – even if you delete the game.

These are very useful features. They save you time and bother. Amazon started the trend with WhisperSync for Books. It’s great to see it has continued it with WhisperSync for Movies and WhisperSync for Games.

The X-Ray feature for Books and Movies also comes in handy sometimes. With its acquisition of GoodReads, Amazon has added a valuable new data source. That should make the X-Ray for Books feature even better.

So, overall, these little features definitely add to the value proposition of the Kindle Fire HD. Note: Various Tablets have their own little value-add features. Amazon perhaps has the best set of add-on features.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Audiobooks from Audible

Kindle Fire HD lets you access over 100,000 audiobooks from Audible.com. Amazon owns Audible.com and this allows it to do several things other Tablet makers can’t do very easily -

  1. Offer the Audiobook version of a Kindle Book you’re buying for a discount price.
  2. The Immersion Reading feature (available for 15,000 titles). Kindle Fire HD will play an audiobook and turn the pages of the corresponding Kindle Book in sync.
  3. The WhisperSync for Voice feature. Kindle Fire HD will let you switch seamlessly between reading the Kindle Book and listening to the Audible Audiobook.

Overall, this makes the Kindle Fire HD the #1 choice if listening to Audiobooks is one of the Top 4 things you’ll do on a Tablet.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Closing Thoughts

Kindle Fire HD is a very good tablet. While the iPad is still the clear leader, there’s a good argument to be made that, for non tech-savvy users, Kindle Fire HD is the #2 choice. Given that iPad is $499 and iPad Mini is $329, the Kindle Fire HD at $199 is very attractive for prospective Tablet owners.

Google’s Nexus 7 and B&N’s Nook HD are better choices if you want the 700,000 Apps of the Google Play Store. The major drawback of both is that they don’t have as wide a content ecosystem in the US. Nook HD software is still unpolished and the Google Play Store integration in Nook HD is a work in progress. Nexus 7 is neither intuitive nor user-friendly for non tech-savvy users.

That leaves Kindle Fire HD as a strong #2 Tablet choice for non-technical users, in my opinion. If you can’t afford the iPad Mini, and don’t want to wait 2-4 months to see what the next generation Tablets and Windows 8 Tablets are like, then buying Kindle Fire HD is a good choice.

Kindle Fire HD 7″ Initial Review

I have not had a lot of time on the Kindle Fire HD 7″ yet, but thought I would post my initial review of the features that are important to me.  This is a day or so after my initial Kindle Fire HD unveiling and I am still playing around with the tablet and learning its features.  I’m sure I will find out much more as I go along (so please bear this in mind). I also have not read any of the reviews or blog posts about the Kindle Fire HD so that I would approach it with a fresh eye.

The physical device

The new Kindle Fire HD is much sleeker than the Kindle Fire 1.  It feels very good in your hands, sleek, not slippery, pleasant to look at.

The speakers are on the back of the device, but wrap around to the sides, so sound can project from the back and both sides – which is great if one or more of these areas are blocked.

There is a microUSB port and an HDMI port on one side.  I still think Amazon cheaped out not including a power cable and cheaped out a second time not including an HDMI cable.

On the top (or is it the bottom?) are the earphone port, volume key, and on/off button.  It is great that they have included a volume button – that was a horrible mistake on the part of the Kindle Fire 1.  The On/Off button on the Kindle Fire 1 was also a horrible mistake.  I do have some complaints about the current volume and on/off button on the Kindle Fire HD.  They are hard to find.  I have finally figured out they are on the shorter side of the device, but there is no easy way to see them or really feel them.  They each have a raised indicator on them, but it can easily be mistaken for the speakers.

Ease of charging – plug the microUSB cable into a USB port on your computer and into the microUSB port on your Kindle Fire HD.  Look for an external indicator that the device is charging.  There is none.  Really?  No little green/red light?  How much would that have cost?  This is one of the negatives I have on the Google Nexus 7.  You don’t know when your device is done charging.  Open up the loading screen and go to the home page.  Looking at the battery indicator, I cannot see that there is any indication that it is charging.  I finally plugged the Kindle Fire HD into my Google Nexus 7 charger and the battery indicator turned green and showed a charging indication.  Still nothing on the computer.

The size of the new tablet is good. The proportions work well. However, creating a new size (slightly wider) means that the previous Kindle Fire case does not work on the new Kindle Fire HD 7″.  Another way for Amazon to try and grab money from end users.

Rating: Looks 5 stars, Speakers 5 stars, Volume button 4 stars, On/Off button 4 stars, Ease of charging 3 stars, New size 4 stars. Overall 4.25 stars for the physical device itself.

The interface

There are some good things and bad things about the Kindle Fire HD interface.  The HD screen in and of itself is very crisp and sharp. Great colors.  I like HD.  I don’t see any visible improvements in anti-glare functionality.  Overhead lights in my office cause the same amount of glare on both Kindle Fire tablets.

The opening splash screen has been updated to get rid of the ugly yellow slider and replace it with a slider with a lock button.  But – from that moment on, you are inundated with ads.  Not just a few ads.  The Kindle Fire HD is a walking (and possibly even talking) ad interface for the Amazon store.  An ad everytime you turn on the device.

The Home Screen still has the carousel.  So far I have not found a way to tell the carousel what I do and don’t want to see (other than pressing on the item and removing it).  Can’t I tell it not to put out every book, app, video, etc in the library? Or not see any webpage I visited? The shelf is gone and the Home screen now has a plain black background.  The favorite item shelf is gone (I really liked that). It has been replaced by – brace yourselves – ADS!  The ads differ based upon what item is front and center on the carousel.  If it is a book – it links you to similar books that customers also bought. Similar with music, videos and apps.  Oh – and below the ads is another ad for Amazon Prime membership and its benefits.

It does appear to be a little easier to get to the settings, sync, etc.  Just drag down by the battery indicator instead of repeatedly tapping. The Home button also is easily visible on most screens.

Rating: Updated look and navigation 4.5 stars, Ads 1 star, HD 5 stars, Home screen 3 stars.  Overall 3.5 stars for the interface – ADS are a big drawback to me.

The Sound

I’m not a technophobe when it comes to sound.  That gene got left to my oldest brother and somehow passed to my son-in-law.  But I do have good hearing, so tested the same songs on both the Kindle Fire 1 and the Kindle Fire HD.

The Dolby dual speakers – they are awesome.  I could get the sound at least twice as loud on the Kindle Fire HD and it sounded crisp, clear and beautiful.

Rating: 5 stars.  Much better than I ever expected on a $199 tablet.

The Speed

Downloading movies, songs, books, and apps appears to be faster on the Kindle Fire HD than on the Kindle Fire 1.  So some improvements there.  Still not as fast as on a higher end tablet, but decent.  I will need to test this more to come to a better conclusion.

Rating: Tentative 4-5 stars.

The Apps

I’m an app developer and I was curious that Amazon has not said a word to us about our Kindle Fire apps.

One of the first things I did after connecting my Kindle Fire HD to WiFi was to see what apps it is showing in The Cloud for me. On my Kindle Fire 1 I have 106 apps.  On my Kindle Fire HD I have 77.  Wow – where did they all go?

I wanted to check out the new email app.  Can you believe it did not come as a default on the device?  Same with Skype.  You would think that since Amazon was touting these apps, they would have them already loaded, but they didn’t.  Installed there was just Calendar, Contacts, Help & Feedback, IMDb, OfficeSuite, Personal Videos, Shop Amazon (of course) and Silk.

Going back to the apps – my company (7 Dragons) has 15 apps in the Amazon Apps for Android store.  These have all been tested as working well on the Kindle Fire 1. On the Kindle Fire HD 7″ – only four of these apps are available.  While these apps work, their proportions are off because of the larger screen and because Amazon removed the 20 pixel gray bar from the bottom of all apps.  I have found the same in Angry Birds, Fruit Ninjas and all apps not designed specifically for Kindle Fire HD 7″ (which are very few).

Amazon has brought out this highly anticipated device and knows that app content is very important to tablet users.  But they have reduced the number of apps that work on the device without letting end users and developers know.  This on a device that is fairly comparable to the previous device in size.  What is going to happen with the 8.9″ devices.  Are we just going to be told – ooops?  Bummer?

Rating: 2 stars.  The lack of apps, the lack of information, the modification to the device without letting end users and developers know the consequences.

The Summary

The Kindle Fire HD 7″ is definitely a major improvement in many ways over the original Kindle Fire 1. I still have a lot of experimenting and experiencing to do and think that this has the potential to be a great tablet for end users.

I am seriously considering paying the extra $15 to get rid of the ads on the device.  I think this is not only distracting, but a very “In your face” move that Amazon should not have done.  I think the decisions they made on the screen size and the impact this is going to have on apps and app developers is also something that was not thoroughly thought thru.

My initial overall rating of the Kindle Fire HD 7″ is 3.5 stars.  Not what I had hoped for considering the hype this has been given.  I will be learning more and researching items this week and will post updated reviews as I examine different features.

Kindle Fire Usability Review from Jakob Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen is perhaps the top user interface expert in the world and his take on Kindle Fire Usability is now up.

The Kindle Fire doesn’t do well at all in his usability review. A few things stood out for me -

  1. It’s not just us Kindle 3 owners who lament the loss of physical page turn buttons. Here’s Mr. Nielsen’s take:

    The lack of physical buttons for turning the page also impedes on the reading experience for fiction. On the older Kindles, it’s easy to keep a finger on the button when all you use it for is to turn the page. In contrast, tapping an area of the screen disrupts reading enjoyment, is slightly error-prone, and leaves smudges on the screen.

  2. It’s not just us Kindle Fire owners who want physical buttons. Mr. Nielsen shares our pain:

    Using apps and websites on the Kindle Fire is less efficient than on other devices because it lacks two key physical buttons: one to return to the home screen (as on the Kindle Keyboard) and one for volume up/down (as on the iPad). Physical Back and Menu buttons would also make the interaction more fluent (as on Android phones). After a while, touching the screen to bring up the control strip becomes less unnatural, but it’s still an extra step compared to hitting a hard button.

  3. He points out the need for websites and magazine apps and apps made specifically for 7″ Tablets. He says Kindle Fire and 7″ Tablets are different enough to be considered a separate form factor.
  4. He very clearly says that Kindle Fire works well only with Mobile Websites.
  5. His main take: Kindle Fire offers a disappointingly poor user experience. It seems harsh given the device is very good overall. However, he makes some convincing arguments.
  6. He says that for reading fiction, the older Kindle design wins. Which is no surprise at all to anyone who’s owned an eInk Kindle.
  7. He says Kindle Fire wins for magazines etc. but that the magazine reading experience is miserable. I know hardly anything about magazines in general so have nothing to say here.

His conclusion is very interesting:

7-inch tablets have either a glorious future or will fail miserably. I doubt there’s a middle path in their future.

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices.

7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform.

He feels that unless 50 million or so of 7″ Tablets sell by end of 2013 there won’t be enough economic incentive for people to make products targeted specifically to 7″ Tablets and that they will then die out.

My take would be that just 10 million Kindle Fires would be enough. There are already millions of other 7″ Tablets like Nook Color and Galaxy Tab and Nook Tablet. If the total gets to 20 million devices that’s a big enough market for most developers and publishers.

Should Amazon act on Mr. Nielsen’s Recommendations?

Yes, it really should.

The #1 reason is not that he’s probably the top usability expert in the world. It’s that these are the EXACT SAME THINGS that actual Kindle and Kindle Fire owners are asking for. Just check the official kindle forums and these same things come up again and again.

That in itself should have been enough to tell Amazon that a lot of the decisions it has made are terrible ones i.e. getting rid of physical page turn buttons on Kindle Touch, getting rid of volume and Home buttons on Kindle Fire, etc.

Now we also have Jakob Nielsen weighing in and he is, not surprisingly, with users and in favor of a simple user interface. Let’s not try to outdo Apple. Let’s keep making great Kindle devices like Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 and Kindle 3.

While you’re at it Amazon – also bring back the physical keyboard for Kindles.

Is Mr. Nielsen too harsh?

Note: This is all about usability.

No, he’s not. It’s easy to understand why someone 100% focused on usability is upset that there are no physical page turn buttons, there is no volume button, and lots of the product offerings are not built specifically for the device.

On the Note of developing Apps specifically for 7″ Tablets

We do have some applications made specifically for 7″ Tablets like the Kindle Fire. I’m just waiting until we’ve sent out versions that are actually tested on the Kindle Fire and optimized for it before sharing them with you.

Let me just add that Amazon goes out of its way to make it difficult for app developers to make apps for Kindle Fire.

Amazon would not let developers get test units of Kindle Fire until they were actually shipped to customers. There wasn’t even an emulator or simulator. If you’re wondering why there aren’t more apps or why half the apps work wrong – It’s because Amazon treated developers like an after-thought.

 How can developers make great apps if they don’t even have access to the devices?

Amazon, please read what Jakob Nielsen has written. You need apps made specifically to take advantage of the form factor of the Kindle Fire and you need to treat developers very well and perhaps you should focus on apps as products and not loss leaders.

Kindle Fire Review roundup

The Kindle Fire is in reviewers’ hands and a flurry of Kindle Fire reviews are out. There are lots of very interesting opinions flying around and it’ll be fun to do a Kindle Fire review roundup.

Kindle Fire Review Round-up – Top 10 Things

The Price is Right

The shiniest thread running through all the Kindle Fire reviews is the impressive price of $199. That’s the one area Amazon has really delivered in.

MSNBC has an entirely too positive Kindle Fire review, and has one line that stands out -

 The Kindle Fire can handle about 80 percent of what I want to do on an iPad, for 40 percent of the price.

If 80% of what people do on Tablets is email, surfing the web, watching movies, playing casual games, and reading books – Then this isn’t far from the truth.

The Performance isn’t Perfect

A surprisingly large percentage of the Kindle Fire reviews say performance is sometimes sluggish. It’s a surprise given the assumption that Amazon would use its magic software skills to turn the not-very-impressive hardware into a super fast beast.

Kindle Fire is a Store

Engadget points this out very well. Kindle Fire is basically a very tight integration of Amazon’s digital offerings into a Tablet. It’s a mini Amazon store.

Kindle Fire seems to be very easy to use

While very few Kindle Fire reviews address this directly (since they seem to miss the fact that users care a lot about ease of use), the overall picture that is emerging is that Kindle Fire will be very easy to use.

You have your carousel of everything you opened or read or watched or played with. You have your shelves where you can stack up your favorites. You have your shelves of Amazon purchases. It’s all quite well laid out and simple.

Kindle Fire Reviews miss the core uses of Tablets

It would be really cool if one or more Kindle Reviews listed the 10 uses cases that make up 90% of Tablet usage i.e.

  1. Surfing the Web
  2. Email
  3. Watching Movies
  4. Playing casual games.
  5. Reading Books
  6. Watching TV Shows
  7. Checking Facebook
  8. Reading Magazines and Newspapers
  9. Photo Frames and Photos.
  10. Shopping and Searching.

And discussed those. Rather than talking about how Kindle Fire’s battery life is 5% less than this $399 Tablet’s and 20% less than that $499 Tablet’s.

That really is what is missing. Just tell us whether it does these core things. And how well it does these core things.

The one review that comes closest to doing that is Andy Ihnatko’s Kindle Fire Review. It’s probably the best Kindle Fire review.

Kindle Fire Reviewers keep comparing the $199 Kindle Fire to $400 and $500 Tablets

It’s a bit strange.

Here’s the list of devices Kindle Fire reviewers keep comparing the Kindle Fire to – iPad, Galaxy Tab, Playbook, iPad 2, Motorola Xoom.

What do all those devices have in common? They are all 2 to 2.5 times more expensive than the Kindle Fire.

For some strange reason, most Kindle Fire reviewers don’t know about Nook Color or don’t want to do that comparison. It’s painful that they wouldn’t do the most obvious comparison. Engadget goes to the extreme of comparing Kindle Fire with the T-Mobile Springboard from Huawei.

A lot of hating of 7″ screens going on

Percentage of reviewers who claim that many Tablet functions are useless on a 7″ screen: Approximately 50%.

Percentage of reviewers who point out the weight and portability benefits of a 7″ screen: Approximately Zero.

Found it amusing that people keep claiming that surfing the web, reading magazines, and several other ‘Tablet functions’ are useless on a 7″ screen.

Browsing the web, playing games (casual ones), writing email, etc. are all perfectly fine on a 7″ screen. Of course, I only have a year’s experience with a 7″ Tablet so the 4-day experience of these Kindle Fire reviewers is far more meaningful.

The one area the smaller screen will be an issue is magazines and newspapers.

The advantages no one seems to be mentioning – easier to hold, easier to carry, you can hold it with one hand, itweighs less. 7″ Tablets have a lot going for them and are far more ‘mobile’ than 10″ Tablets.

Silk is good but not as good as expected

Amazon’s Silk browser was supposed to make browsing really fast. It turns out it’s more of a case of Silk making browsing decently fast and compensating for the limited amount of RAM.

Where reviewers ran into trouble was interacting with the pages – things were sluggish and awkward. Amazon really shouldn’t have promised a lot with Silk. It made it seem Silk was Moore’s Law in action and the unfulfilled dream of the Network Computer finally fulfilled. Apparently, it’s neither.

The Dichotomy – People either think Kindle Fire is amazing or disappointing

It’s quite inexplicable.

  1. You have Gizmodo saying – The iPad finally has serious competition.
  2. You have Wired giving Kindle Fire 5 out of 10.
  3. Who’s right?

There’s a rather sharp dichotomy of Kindle Fire reviews - some absolutely adore the Kindle Fire while others treat the Kindle Fire like the Prada-wearing Devil treats her interns.

How could the same Fire Tablet result in such vastly different reviews?

Amazon needs to beef up the App Store

Not going with the standard Android Market is a problem since it limits apps to what Amazon can get approved and fine-tuned for Kindle Fire.

We are talking about a few thousand apps compared to the iPad’s 50,000 or 100,000 Apps.

Tablets are currently toys but Kindle Fire reviews are pretending otherwise

It’s quite funny to hear lots of people claim the iPad is a full-fledged computer and a productivity machine and replaces a laptop.

Really?

Apparently, the only people who disagree are the ones buying Tablets.

We have a situation where most people are buying Tablets and using them to surf the web and watch movies and check email. Kindle Fire does all of these well (at least it seems that way from the Kindle Fire reviews and videos). However, it’s being dragged across the coals because it’s not ‘a laptop replacement like the iPad’.

The $200 Toy isn’t as productivity-enhancing or computer-like as the $500 Toy. How tragic.

Kindle Fire Review Roundup – Pros and Cons

Pros of the Kindle Fire

  1. Great $199 Price.
  2. Covers 80% of what the $500 Tablets do.
  3. 1024 by 600 IPS LCD screen.
  4. 1 GHz dual-core processor.
  5. 2.4 GHz WiFi works well.
  6. Gorilla Glass display.
  7. 169 dpi is pretty good density.
  8. It has a backlight and will be great in bed (despite its boring looks).
  9. Pretty good battery life. 7 hours and 42 minutes of playing video according to Engadget.
  10. Decent Email App.
  11. Amazon’s Customer Service. None of the Kindle Fire Reviews mention this.
  12. Amazon’s Infrastructure.
  13. Link to the Amazon Store. Of course, there is the accompanying risk of your spending increasing.
  14. Great if you’re already a Prime subscriber.

There are quite a few other benefits. Do read the Kindle Fire reviews.

Cons of the Kindle Fire

  1. Only 512 MB of RAM. Software tweaks and enhancements apparently don’t compensate for this.
  2. The design is painfully unimaginative.
  3. No physical buttons at all – no Home button, no volume buttons. This is madness. No, this is Sparta!
  4. 8 GB memory is rather low.
  5. You don’t get any default editing software for Excel and Powerpoint. OMG It’s not a productivity machine. Burn it at the Stake.
  6. Speakers aren’t very good. Audio even with headphones is lacking.
  7. No HDMI output for playing movies through a TV.
  8. No ambient light sensor. Which is such an important feature to have since using our own eyes to see how much ‘ambient’ light there is might be too stressful.
  9. No 3G.
  10. Can’t read it in sunshine as it’s not eInk. Amazon will have to pull its reading on the beach and by the pool advertisements. What will the snarky lady do now?
  11. Few customization options. Amazon has strangely ruled out all Wallpaper Apps and taken away one of Android’s big pluses over iPhone. Perhaps it will allow custom screensavers instead of showing us members of The Dead Poet’s Society.
  12. 7″ display is a bit small for magazines.
  13. No micro-USB data cable included.

There are also some other negatives. The Kindle Fire reviews cover some of the ones I’ve missed.

Kindle Fire Review Round-up – 3 Biggest Surprises

1) Silk is not silky smooth. Silk either failed or it only managed to compensate for the lower amount of RAM.

2) Amazon’s User Interface and Kindle Fire’s performance isn’t super fast (as had seemed earlier).

3) The Amount of Tablet you get for $200.

I think people still don’t fully realize that you are getting 80% of what the $500 tablets deliver – in terms of usability and utility. Kindle Fire is not going to be as fast, or have as many technical terms to adorn itself with – However, it will deliver 80% of the features of $400 to $500 Tablets at 40% to 50% of the price. Which makes it a winner no matter how you look at it.

Kindle Fire Review roundup – The 3 Best Kindle Fire Reviews

I really wish Amazon had given units to people like Mike Cane and Nate at The Digital Reader. People who could step out of the ‘Let’s compare this $200 Tablet with $500 tablets’ miasma and give a really smart review.

Here are 3 Kindle Fire Reviews that were quite good.

Andy Ihnatko Strikes Gold

The Kindle Fire Review in the Chicago Sun-Times is great.

It starts with the title -

Kindle Fire is no iPad killer – but it is a killer device.

It continues by nailing what most reviewers are missing -

Take an iPad, solve its two biggest problems, and you’d hope to wind up with something exactly like Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The iPad has a 10-inch screen and costs a minimum of $499.

Instead of ignoring the price difference ($499 and $299) and pretending that the 10″ screen has no disadvantages, Andy Ihnatko writes a forthright review.

The review seems to be a bit too positive at times. It glosses over some points of concern (Is Silk actually faster? Does the hardware measure up in performance?). However, the big thing it gets right is that it talks about what the Kindle Fire is, and not what tech journalists want it to be.

It’s just crazy to compare a $200 Tablet with a $500 one and the only reviewer who seems to realize that is Andy Ihnatko. He throws in a bonus – Kindle Fire is a big threat to iPod Touch sales.

The Second Best Kindle Fire Review – The Verge

While the review is quite harsh, it’s the second best Kindle Fire review on the basis of the thorough coverage. There is also a nice, systematic breakdown. The Verge gives the Kindle Fire (my thoughts in italics) -

  1. Design – 6 out of 10. Have to agree – it’s so box-shaped, cardboard boxes are getting jealous.
  2. Display – 7 out of 10. That’s really unfair. It’s an IPS display with 169 dpi and Gorilla Glass. What more do you expect out of a $200 Tablet? I’ll wait to see the Nook Tablet’s Vivid View display and the Kindle Fire’s display side by side before discussing this further.
  3. Speakers – 7 out of 10. Based on the reviews this seems fair to generous.
  4. Performance – 8 out of 10. This seems fair.
  5. Software – 8 out of 10. This seems fair too.
  6. Battery Life – 9 out of 10. This seems generous.
  7. Ecosystem – 7 out of 10. Not sure about this.

It’s a little crazy that The Verge doesn’t cover Price, Value for Money, Customer Service, Cloud Infrastructure and all the other Amazon strengths. How short-sighted.

Overall, the verdict from The Verge is – There’s no question that Kindle Fire is a really terrific tablet for its price.

Engadget’s Glowing Kindle Fire Review

Engadget’s Review of the Kindle Fire is a bit too forgiving at times. In fact, there are times when it’s practically fawning -

what Amazon has delivered is a device that is intimately familiar yet mysterious

This thing feels incredibly solid, as if Amazon simply put a chisel to a big piece of slate, gave it a good whack and then put the resulting slab into a Frustration-Free box

Unfortunately, it looks like a slab too.

What saves this Kindle Fire review is that Engadget points out both the weaknesses and flaws. It’s a good overview of Kindle Fire’s strengths and weaknesses plus there are 2 well-done Kindle Fire review videos thrown in. Here’s part of Engadget’s summary -

The Kindle Fire is quite an achievement at $200.

When stacked up against other popular tablets, the Fire can’t compete … Other, bigger tablets do it better — usually at two or three times the cost.

Kindle Fire Review Roundup – Summary

It seems that Amazon has managed to exceed and miss expectations at the same time.

Kindle Fire at $199 is way more Tablet for the money than anyone expected. Amazon has certainly delivered on price and value for money.

Amazon’s talk of nattily-dressed UI and elegant software optimizations and strong, muscular 1 GHz dual-core processors and Silky Smooth Browsers had everyone excited (especially romance novel lovers). However, it seems all these embellishments only manage to compensate for the cost-cutting Amazon has done.

We were, perhaps wrongly, hoping for a miracle – a $200 Tablet that is neck to neck with the $500 iPad. Surprise of surprises – it isn’t. Kindle Fire is just a really good $199 Tablet that delivers 80% of what a high-end Tablet would.

The Kindle Fire is about to upend the Tablet Market. Just not in the way we thought it would.

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